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October 28, 2004

Jerry's Take On What's Next in Search

With Yahoo! approaching its 10th anniversary, the question I'm hearing a lot lately is "what's next in the world of search?"

Ten years ago, we were focused on a simple yet vast problem: finding better ways to aggregate and organize information so people can find it. Today, the challenge is different. On the one hand, there's a lot more information to aggregate and it's not just more in terms of quantity; there's a larger variety of content as well -- from products and images to news and business information. In addition, we're pulling content from more sources than ever before.

On the other hand, our user's expectations have also changed. It's no longer enough to simply provide a structure for users to find what they want on the Web. Today, people expect to find precisely what they're looking for exactly as it relates to them. It's the old example of the "Java" search query. Are you looking for coffee or for the programming language? People want to define what's relevant to them in their own personal way. They also want to tap into the source of their information at will and they want to manage it all to personally suit their needs.

That's what is exciting about where we are today. Search as a problem is still far from being solved. The user is in the driver's seat: they want an experience that is increasingly personal, more relevant, and ties into their task more integrally. Search is just a way to get that integrated experience, but it's all about what the users want - when they want it, how they want it, and who they want it from.

Jeremy hit on it in a recent blog entry; we have to "make search more relevant and personal." Those two things are the natural progression for search and they are tightly connected to our concept of seamless integration. Search has to reach a higher bar: it has to enhance the user's life on a daily basis. Integration of search, community, personalization and content builds the foundation for relevancy in people's lives.

Because the Net is obviously a bigger part of people's lives than 10 years ago, we at Yahoo! also have an opportunity to integrate into people's lives more deeply than before. Yahoo! Local and the beta version of My Yahoo! Search are just two of the examples of how we're enabling people to manage their search content, search within locations of their choice, and build personal communities online. Users can connect to people with similar interests and they can gather and share search information at will.

Fortunately, we're also at a time when the technology is helping us plug into people's lives even more richly. For instance, at this year's Web 2.0 Conference there was a lot of talk about RSS and wireless technology. This is stuff we only dreamed about ten years ago and its helping redefine what we do with search today. RSS is allowing people to access exactly what they want and wireless is letting us deliver the information wherever you are. People aren't chained to their PCs anymore and neither is search. Yesterday's introduction of Yahoo! Search for Mobile is just one example of how technology is propelling search forward. Search is literally in your pocket and at your bus stop. It doesn't get more integrated than that.

The question to ask now isn't if or when; it's "what else." What else can we do to take search to the next level? What else can we do to make search even more useful and accessible to you?

These are the challenges that will keep us busy for at least another 10 years and we're getting closer everyday. At Yahoo! it's our job to stay ahead of consumer needs and expectations and, based on the responses of our users, I believe we're doing a really good job so far -- but it's still very early. It's one of the reasons I remain really excited about how we can continue to provide real solutions to people's problems, and make a difference. While I'm not nearly as technical as I was 10 years ago (I got my hint when David Filo changed the password on me so I can't touch code anymore), I firmly believe that the technology we are building today makes the future of the Web even more useful, informative, and entertaining. As long as there's a way to help people find more precise and more relevant information on the Web, you'll find me in the thick of things searching for it.

Jerry Yang
Chief Yahoo


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October 27, 2004

Yahoo Search, Now on Your Cell Phone

We just launched Yahoo! Mobile Search today, so let me give you a quick rundown on what it's about: Image Search and Local for all WAP devices plus Web Search for advanced phone/PDA users. Head over to mobile.yahoo.com/search to see what your phone is capable of or visit search.yahoo.com on your WAP device.

The Mobile version of Yahoo! Local shares data with the on-line version. So not only can you use ratings to find the plumber with the best service or the best pizza place, your personal preferences will follow you onto your cell phone. Save a location on Yahoo! Local and it'll show up on your mobile too.

Image Search helps you pass the time by browsing the 1,000,000,000+ images we've found on the Web. Who hasn't performed a vanity search?

Web Search Shortcuts

If you've already used Yahoo Search Shortcuts from your desktop or laptop, good news: we've included search shortcuts specifically for mobile web searchers. The current set contains:

Movies

To find what's playing near you, just add the zip code after the word "movies": movies 94086

Definitions

Get quick access to definitions using a "define" search: define extemporaneous

Stock Quotes

Looking for the latest price on your favorite stock? Just search for the ticker symbol: yhoo

Sports Scores

All you need is the team name and "scores": red sox scores

Weather

Check to see if Tahoe will get snow this weekend: weather tahoe

Calculator

Yeah, we know every phone has a one built in, but this was too easy not to support for the techies out there!

Neeraj Choubey
Y! Mobile Product Manager


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October 26, 2004

Search Tricks #2: News Search

To celebrate the public launch of RSS on Yahoo! News Search I thought I'd write a quick blog entry and expose some of the more useful (and lesser known) features of the service.

We have over 7,000 sources and searching them is monkey easy; just go to search.yahoo.com/news (or news.yahoo.com) and type into the search box. But if you want to get a bit more advanced and make very focused queries, you can do some really cool stuff.

Here are a few things to try.

Advanced Searches

By Location

Curious what the Canadian press thinks about the Iraq war? A search for iraq location:canada queries only news sources in Canada.

By Source

Interested in the BBC's coverage of the British Prime Minister? Just search for source:bbc blair.

By Category

Want to keep an eye on your home team? Try cat:sports houston if you live in Houston.

By Language

How about news in German? (Notice the "vl&=lang_de" parameter in that URL?)

By News Type

For all press releases involving IBM, use the newstype option: newstype:pr ibm.

More Advanced Options

You can compose your own advanced search by using the above search commands or use our advanced news search page.

RSS Support

Two other cool features of Y! News Search are RSS support and the ability to add any search to My Yahoo!:

  • Use the 'Add to My Yahoo!' button on the search result page to add any news results you want to your My Yahoo! page.
  • RSS: using the new xml button on the News Search result page, you can now turn any search into a fresh RSS feed. For example hurricane location:florida gets you your own ongoing feed of hurricane news from Florida. The only restriction is that the source parameter doesn't work in RSS mode, and some providers may choose to opt out of RSS results.

Finally, it's worth noting that the feeds are now full-blown RSS 2.0 rather than the old RSS 1.0 RDF format that we first used.

Enjoy the new Y! News Search, and let us know what we can do to make it better.

Jacob Rosenberg
Technical Yahoo!


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October 25, 2004

An Interview with Paulien Strijland of Yahoo! User Experience Design

Paulien Strijland is Yahoo!’s director of User Experience Design (UED) for Search and Marketplace and when you first meet her, you can tell that she’s creative. She is a striking figure at 6’1” and wears expressive, flowing outfits and chunky, eclectic jewelry. She speaks enthusiastically about UED and she always seems to be in the middle of something interesting.

But what Paulien brings to Yahoo! is a lot more than creative energy. She is a business-savvy pragmatist who values collaboration tempered with practicality. But it may be her penchant for diplomacy, more than her pragmatism, that helps her provide unique direction for Yahoo! UED.

Here’s what I know about UED: you can build the best engineered product around but if no one understands how to use it, then who cares? It’s like the new cell phone Paulien was fiddling with when we spoke, “this phone’s got at least 100 features,” she said. “But all I care about is getting to the two or three that I want. They’re randomly buried in with all the others so it’s hard to find them and get to them fast. That’s not good user design.”

I sat down with Paulien over coffee last week as she shared her thoughts on user design and the world beyond Yahoo!.


Q: You’ve been involved in user interface design for over ten years now. What changes have you seen in the direction of UED and how it’s perceived?

A: Years ago there was no formal training for UI (User Interface) design and it was a discipline that wasn’t really recognized or viewed as important. Most companies didn’t even have UI designers. These days, even the smallest organizations have an appreciation for the field. So you spend less time trying to explain how UED affects the bottom line and more time getting to the design.

On top of that, the numbers of people using computers has significantly increased. This means we’re now designing for new types of users with different perspectives and different levels of computer savvy. Our designs have to be easy enough for the novice to use but compelling enough for the power user.

Q: What’s the toughest aspect of your job?

A: Everyone has an opinion! Yahoo! is very collaborative and everyone is a user on some level or another. The toughest thing is understanding the value of hearing everyone’s feedback but knowing that everyone’s opinion can’t go into the product. If it did, we’d have a hodge-podge design that really served no ones purpose. You have to be very diplomatic.

You also have to remember that we’re not the typical user. Our teams do a lot more searches in more ways and with more comparing than regular users. So we may not see things the same way they do. When you understand that distinction, you’re able to really hear what users are telling you about the product and about the design. It comes down to striking a balance between what your original product design goals might have been and what you’ve learned from the people who are going to use it.

For example, before Yahoo! Local was in beta, we'd received lots of very positive user response about the "view results on map" feature. The problem was that once we'd made the beta public, users weren't even aware that a "view results on map" feature existed. We had designed a button for it and we thought it as very visible and very intuitive. In our minds, it was "right there." But users still weren't using it. They just weren't registering it visually.

We ended up sitting back down and seriously rethinking how we'd treat that feature and it was very different from our original design concepts. When Yahoo! Local came out of beta, we'd found a much more effective way to call it out.

Q: But how do you really know that it's effective? Maybe users still aren't using it.

A: Well, we can tell that it's a very used feature now. Our reports show that people are clicking on the button so they must be finding it. On top that, they're telling us themselves that they really like the feature in the feedback they send to us. So we know they're using it. I'd say the redesign worked.

Q: Okay, you mentioned balancing design goals with user needs. Here’s a leap in a different direction: how do you balance work and play? Assuming that you do!

A: I have an endless list of interests from playing games, doing art projects and hanging out with my kids, to hiking and camping and traveling to new places. You have to have a life outside of your work and you have to make a conscious effort to do the things that keep you well rounded and stimulate creativity. Sometimes it’s harder when you have a job that challenges you and that you love. You can get caught up in solving various puzzles and potentially neglect other areas of your life, but again the key is balance. So I guess I don’t have a magic answer. I work at it like everyone else.

Q: You started here in April after working at places like Apple and PayPal and NetFlip. Why Yahoo!? What brought you here?

A: In general, I think we have endless opportunities here at Yahoo! to fundamentally improve the way millions of people use the Web. That’s extremely exciting! In terms of UED, there’s a level of user insight that permeates everything at Yahoo!. I’m constantly impressed that the engineers and product managers and the marketers and producers have such an appreciation for the value of compelling UED. Their feedback is very insightful. You don’t find that everywhere.

Q: Apple in particular is known for their very clean and identifiable product design—I love the iPod mini design, for instance. How did your design perspective change after working with Steve Jobs and his team?

A: I actually don’t think it changed my design perspective per se. Steve understands the importance of good design and he is able to make things happen. For example, a lot of the ideas that ended up OS X were prototyped much earlier. Steve was instrumental in allowing the team to work out some of these ideas and actually bring them to market.

Q: Do you own an iPod and if so, what color and what kind of tunes are on your playlist?

A: I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t own an iPod... If I did, there would be a lot of different music on it for different moments and moods: lots of classical and melodious jazz to listen to at work or at home, and some good old 60’s/70’s and brazilian music for road trips.

Q: How is Yahoo!’s philosophy on site design and page layout different form others? Why do our pages seem more complex than others?

A: I actually think many of our new products are quite clean and beautiful. For example our new Local Search product. But it all depends on the purpose of the page or the product. You have to compare apples to apples.

Q: Okay. How about Google’s front page compared to Yahoo!’s front page?

A: Well again, the purposes of both are very different. Besides search, people come to Yahoo!’s front page to do everything from getting driving directions to finding stock prices to sending email. You have to figure a way to elegantly include all the things that people are trying to access on one page. Aesthetically, we have a very different challenge from sites like Google that essentially provide variations on one main product. With the creation of our new front page (now in beta) as well as other key pages on the site, you’ll see that we’re putting even more attention into balancing content with aesthetic.

Q: Do you have to have a certain aesthetic to do interface design?

A: Absolutely! You must have an incredible eye for detail and a great desire to build beautiful products.

Q: How does that aesthetic color how you see the world? Does it affect everything you do from the clothes you wear to the car you drive?

A: Yes, and the house I live in... It can sometimes be a little tough, because unfortunately that often means my taste is expensive–yet being Dutch I’m very frugal. For example, when I shop for a sofa I’ll fall in love with a $15,000 Italian design and it will take me a while to settle for something more reasonable.

Q: It sounds like you have a real artist’s sensibility. I’m sure you must draw or paint or something. Do you?

A: (laughs) Well, you’re right. I paint and I do sculpture and I love singing, when I can.

Q: I read that you performed with the San Jose Symphony. What was that like?

A: Oh that was great! I was in a choir that performed works by Beethoven, Mozart and Handel. It was amazing.

Q: Do you have anything you want to share with Yahoo! Search and UED enthusiasts before we wrap up?

A: Definitely. Tell everyone that we’re looking for fresh talent. I’m always on the look out for creative individuals who are passionate about Search and UED and—from the questions that came in from a few of the bloggers—I think some of them might fit the bill. So tell them to send in their resumes!


On that note (dutiful profiler that I am ;-)), if you’re interested, forward your resume to careers@yahoo.com.

Well, I’ve learned a bit about Paulien and a lot about UED. Thank you to those who sent in questions for this interview—if this QA style works for you or if you’d like to see something different next time, just let me know. I’ll be sitting down with Tim Converse for my next interview (he’s engineering manager for search content classification) so feel free to funnel your questions for him my way.

‘Til next time…

Yvette Irvin
Yahoo! Profiler (and In-Product Marketer)


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October 21, 2004

Image Search: 1 Billion and Counting

Everyone likes big numbers, so we're glad to announce that Yahoo Image Search has surpassed a billion and is still growing. But rather than brag about what an impressive achievement that is and how the new results page sports a cleaner layout, we wanted to share some interesting tidbits.

Where do all these images come from?

With a billion image references now in our index, it's really interesting to break the numbers down a bit. For example, we all know that the web is truly a global medium. Is that reflected in the images we've seen?

It sure is. Images appearing in English language content now account for only 50% of our index. All of the largest percentage gains are international. A growing percentage of our images are from CJK (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) content. But the Europeans aren't slacking either! No matter how you slice it, the increasing usage of the web in Europe and Asia really stands out in the numbers.

We also regularly pull in image results from our own media sites: news, movies, TV, travel, sports, and so on. For example, searching for images of Donald Trump from The Apprentice returns pictures from the popular TV show.

It's not just about finding pretty pictures...

We all know there are a lot of people looking for pictures of Jessica Simpson. But there are also times when using a more visual search makes it easier to find what you're looking for.

Earlier today, Bradley Horowitz (our director of media search) demonstrated this. When he was looking for baseboard heater covers, he used image search. That way he could visually scan the results very quickly to find the product he wanted.

We're obviously proud of it. So go ahead and try it out. And keep your eyes out for new features. We've got 'em coming.

Kaigene J. Jau - Multimedia Search
Jeremy Zawodny - Technical Yahoo


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October 15, 2004

My Yahoo RSS Slides and Audio from Gnomedex

As Nancy mentioned a few weeks ago, some of us attended Chris Pirillo's Gnomedex conference. While there I had the chance to demonstrate the new My Yahoo beta that we launched just days before, as well as our larger commitment to RSS.

Several people have asked for a copy of the slides I used for my presentation, so here they are. The audio stream is available now too.

Thanks for all the feedback during that weekend. We had a great time at the conference.

Scott Gatz


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October 13, 2004

Howard Dean on Yahoo! Local

We just started running some radio spots to advertise the new Yahoo! Local and thought we'd share one with you. This one has us cracking up over here (and someone in my row keeps playing it over and over). ;-)

Download file

Ryan Rigoli
Yahoo! Local


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October 08, 2004

Trends at the Web 2.0 Conference

I've spent the last few days blogging the Web 2.0 Conference in nearly real time on my weblog. While I haven't had time to catch my breath and digest all the great discussions, I have noticed a few trends. I expected the vast majority of the discussion to be about Web Services (REST, SOAP, APIs, etc) and how they're changing the world, but there were two other pervasive themes getting a lot of attention--far more than I expected.

Personal Web Search and Beyond
The recent moves by Yahoo! (you saw last week's My Yahoo Search announcement, right?), A9, and Ask Jeeves to personalize and expand web search really have people thinking and talking. It came up in repeated sessions and hallway discussions. During the Search as a Platform panel discussion, Jeff Weiner noted that there's a lot of room for search to expand--especially in the Local Search arena.

As he said, our local search is really just the beginning. There is still a lot of work to be done to make search more relevant and personal. A big piece of that involves working to discern intent. When you search for a particular set of keywords, what's your goal? Are you doing research? Looking to buy something? Trying to find a long lost friend? As search engines begin to understand our goals and motivations, they'll be able to custom tailor the results to get what you're looking for even faster.

The overall feeling I got from all the search related discussion and announcements is that there's a lot to look forward to in the search world, both as heavy user of search and someone who's fascinated by the technology. I really wonder what sort of refinements we'll be talking about a year from now. John Battelle joked that our current web search interfaces are a lot like the old DOS command line. If that's the case, the next generation could be as revolutionary as Windows or the Macintosh were.

RSS Advertising
While I expected to hear some discussion of RSS advertising and feed monetization, I was really surprised. RSS advertising talk was everywhere.

This really goes to show how quickly things can change in the on-line world. Two years ago RSS was still under the radar for most publishers. One year ago nobody was talking about advertising in RSS feeds. They were often just headlines and excerpts--teaser content used to get traffic back to your site. But with RSS really gaining steam this year, everyone's looking for ways to work ads into feeds. Keep an eye on this one. I expect to see a lot of rapid innovation in the next year from all over the industry. Entirely new companies have already popped up in this market. And at this point the technology, the business model, and even the ad formats are up for grabs right now.

Jeremy Zawodny
Technical Yahoo!


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October 07, 2004

What's Cookin' at Yahoo! Next

Have you ever walked by a building or business and wondered what exactly was going on inside? Take a restaurant for example. When I was a kid, there was one restaurant that my parents would take us to every weekend. The food was incredible but, for me, the best thing was this huge window where you could see right into the kitchen.

Right after we would order, I would head on over to that kitchen window to see what was cooking. I got pretty good at figuring out when our dishes were being stir-fried, steamed, or braised by which ingredients were going to be thrown into the wok. As good as the food was though, I wanted to be able to tell the chef exactly how I wanted it: pan-fry those noodles just a little crispier, put more barbequed pork in, and can you please please please make it spicier?

So this leads us to why we created Yahoo! Next. Yahoo! Next is a technology preview site where we'll be putting up some of the ideas and products that we're working on. Drop by to play around and let us know what you think. You've probably heard by now about our debut idea, My Yahoo! Search, our first step towards Personal Search. Getting feedback from you on ideas like this will help us understand what's working and what's not. We wanted to give you a window to see some of the things that are cooking in our kitchen and give you a chance to let the chef know how to make it just right.

Hope to see you there.

Chung-Man Tam
Search Product Management
Yahoo! Search


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October 04, 2004

Personal Search: My Yahoo! Search Beta

Today we launched a preview of My Yahoo! Search, our first foray into what we're calling Personal Search. Put simply, Personal Search is about combining the power of search engines with the empowerment of personal technology.

The shift from analog to digital technology is reshaping much of the world around us, perhaps most noticeably in the realm of media. It seems like some of the most profound and transformative product introductions over the last few years are technologies that empower users to consume media how and when they want to, e.g., Tivo (tv), Netflix (home video), ipod (music) and of course blogs (news and information). In the world of search, this means that you should be able to define your own search experience. Today, the Web is a read-only source of information for most users; our vision is of a very individual Web — a "My Web", if you will — which each user creates by searching, browsing, navigating, and generally doing the things they always do. My Yahoo! Search is our first step in that direction.

But getting back to the here and now... vision aside, our user research has shown that My Yahoo! Search addresses a whole host of everyday search problems. If you've ever experienced the tedium of searching again for something you found before but can't quite remember, if you've ever been annoyed by search results you don't like but show up again and again, if you ever wanted to share something you found in search but were forced to cut-and-paste... give My Yahoo! Search a shot.

Try it out at our concept testing site and let us know what you think.

Kevin Akira Lee
Senior Product Manager
Yahoo! Search


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October 03, 2004

Livin' la vida Local, Part Two

After weeks of late nights, cold pizza, and bad coffee, Yahoo! Local launched earlier today. As one of the members of the Yahoo! Local product team, I can tell you that it’s a really good product (yeah, call me biased, but I know a good thing when I see it :-).

As proud as we all are of our efforts, in my opinion, the release of Yahoo! Local comes down to two things: (1) listening to user feedback and (2) doing something positive with what we heard.

If you read the blogs or boards back in August, you probably know that before the product was “Yahoo! Local” it was “Yahoo! Local Beta.” As a matter of fact, back then Paul mentioned that we were making improvements based on the feedback we’d received from the beta. And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing.

During the beta period, we sifted through thousands of your comments and identified reoccurring themes from user interface issues to content breadth and scope, to relevance improvement suggestions. As a result, we added new features, improved existing ones, and generally fine-tuned the product.

For example, many of you told us that you didn’t like the drop-down menus on the left-hand side of the result page for refining your searches. So, we replaced the drop-downs with clickable links that show the number of results per category next to each link, which many of you suggested as an alternative, and indeed better, design. Another suggestion was clickable headers for sorting Yahoo! Local search results by distance, name, price and rating, which we also added.

We’ve also made many other improvements “under the hood” to make the results more relevant, based in large part on your suggestions for how you would expect and like to see the results displayed. You can find the full list of Yahoo! Local features here.

Many of your comments and suggestions were creative and innovative ideas regarding future enhancements and features. While we’ve implemented several of your ideas, when you add all of them to the long list of enhancements that the Local team has already identified…well, let’s just say we’ll be busy for quite some time to come!

So, on behalf of Yahoo! and the entire Yahoo! Local team, I want to thank you all for your valuable feedback on the Yahoo! Local Beta, and I hope that you enjoy the new Yahoo! Local. We promise to keep listening and improving the product as long as you keep telling us what you think about it. So please continue to send us your feedback and expect Yahoo! Local to get even better because of it.

Ali Diab
Senior Director, Local Products


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October 01, 2004

Class Notes from WebSearch University Conference

I just got back from the WebSearch University conference in Washington D.C.; delivering a talk on all the resources available in Yahoo! Search for the advanced researcher. It was great to see this conference going strong and to have a chance to interact with the 300+ librarians, researchers, and information retrieval professionals attending -- everyone from management consultants to researchers for the Supreme Court. This conference is always an interesting change from the Search Engine Strategies (SES) conference that I also speak at. The attendees here have a laser focus on finding the best, most complete sources of information; and virtually no interest in web marketing, the dominant theme at SES. Two completely different groups, and the contrasts are always interesting. Many thanks to Marydee Ojala and co. for putting on such a great conference.

Here are some of my takeaways:

-Web search has now become the de-facto starting point for most researchers, and premium databases and verticals are increasingly used as fall-through.

-There was a lot of focus on data available on the "invisible web," and a lot of interest in what steps we are taking to make this data searchable. To this end, I was able to demo the new partnership Yahoo! has with Worldcat.org that allows Yahoo! searchers to find out if books are available at their local library (part of our Public Site Match Program where Yahoo! partners with numerous not-for-profits).

-With information increasingly available, lots of people were looking for new solutions to better track, store and categorize the information that they have found; traditional IE bookmarks and folders aren't sufficient for many advanced searches.

-News Alerts and RSS feeds are becoming increasingly important for staying on top of areas of interest. You couldn't go 15 minutes without someone bringing up RSS. It was also great to hear Ran mention in his talk that he doesn't use an RSS reader, since he can get the RSS feeds in his My Yahoo!.

One final note: Lots of folks requested a soft-copy of the PowerPoint from my talk, so here it is along with a "bonus" slide at the end that I didn't have a chance to get to. It shows some D.C. relevant examples of how Yahoo!'s improved contextual descriptions for search results are often useful for users looking for answers to natural language questions.

Cheers,

Jon Glick
Sr. Manager
Yahoo! Search


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